After you brush your teeth, they’ll probably feel smooth and clean, but if brushing causes gum pain, it can be alarming. Although gum pain sometimes stems from certain diseases, it’s often from something benign — like brushing incorrectly or using the wrong toothbrush — and easy to treat.
So if you’re experiencing some gum discomfort, there’s no need to panic. We’re here to help you narrow down the possible causes and get some relief.
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Why Do My Gums Hurt When I Brush?
Most likely? Because you’re brushing incorrectly. Many people think brushing harder will help them remove plaque more effectively, but that’s not the case. In fact, brushing too hard (called overbrushing) can wear down your enamel and irritate your gums, eventually causing gum recession.
If you think you might be brushing too hard, try holding your toothbrush with three fingers or using your non-dominant hand. Some electric brushes also come with pressure sensors to help you apply the perfect amount.
Or, perhaps you’re brushing with the wrong type of bristles. The American Dental Association recommends using a soft-bristled brush, unless your dentist says otherwise. Medium- and hard-bristled brushes are more likely to irritate or damage your gums and enamel. So if your gums have been bothering you, check your brush’s bristle stiffness.
Other Causes of Gum Pain
Overbrushing and using the wrong toothbrush are the most common causes of gum pain, but they’re far from the only ones. Here are some other culprits that could be behind your discomfort.
Gingivitis is a common and mild gum disease that often stems from poor oral hygiene. It causes redness, swelling, irritation, and sometimes even bleeding in the gums. Typically, it responds well to a consistent oral hygiene routine, but if you continue brushing and flossing infrequently, it can lead to periodontitis or even tooth loss.
Often confused with cold sores, canker sores don’t develop on the lips, but on the mouth’s interior tissues. They’re small, temporary lesions that can form on the cheeks or at the base of the gums, causing soreness or burning when you brush, eat, or drink. They typically come from injuries, food sensitivities, allergic reactions, a diet lacking in certain vitamins, hormonal shifts, or stress, and they usually go away on their own after a week or two.
Studies have long linked tobacco use to gum disease and recession. If you regularly use any kind of tobacco, quitting will significantly reduce your chances of gum soreness and disease.
Hormonal fluctuations in a woman’s body can cause more blood to flow through the gums, making them react differently to plaque and other irritants. So during puberty, menstruation, pregnancy, menopause, or while taking certain contraceptives, women are more susceptible to gum pain and disease.
Abscesses are pockets of pus that can form inside the teeth or gums as the result of a bacterial infection. One of their symptoms is red, swollen, irritated gums, and they require a trip to the dentist for drainage, a root canal, antibiotics, or in severe cases, tooth extraction.
Some anti-seizure medications, immunosuppressant drugs, and calcium channel blockers for blood pressure can cause gum swelling. If you’re taking any of these drugs, be extra diligent and careful with your oral hygiene routine.
Gingival swelling and irritation are also symptoms of allergic reactions to foods or oral hygiene products like toothpaste and mouthwash. If you suspect an allergic reaction, you can try eliminating these products one by one, or altering your diet, to discover the allergy.
Cuts or abrasions on your gums can come from foods, hard toothbrush bristles, or floss if you use it too vigorously. If you chew on things like pens, toothpicks, or other sharp objects, they can also cut your gums, and hot foods and drinks can burn them. Pain from an oral injury will usually only last for a few days before subsiding.
Gum Pain Home Remedies
If your gum pain stems from a less serious condition, like overbrushing or mild gingivitis, you can treat it from home. Periodontitis, abscesses, and other severe conditions require treatment from a dentist, but you can still use home remedies to help alleviate some of the gum pain. Here are a few that can help.
- Saltwater Rinse: Warm — don’t boil! — a cup of water on the stove or in a kettle. Then add around a teaspoon of salt. Swish it around in your mouth to help prevent bacterial growth.
- Warm or Cold Compresses: Soak a cloth in hot water, wring it out, and apply it to your face where the gums hurt (not the gums themselves). Or apply an ice pack the same way. It should help reduce swelling.
- Teabags: Tea with astringent tannins, like black tea, can kill bacteria, while herbal teas like chamomile or ginger have anti-inflammatory properties. Steep the teabags in hot water for 3–5 minutes, like you would when making tea. Then apply them directly to your gums for around five minutes.
- Herbal Paste: Clove and turmeric can help reduce pain and inflammation. Mix a powdered form of the herb with a tiny amount of water until it’s formed a paste. Apply the paste directly to your gums and wait a few minutes before rinsing with water.
- OTC Pain Relievers: They’re not technically a home remedy, but pain relievers like ibuprofen (Advil) or acetaminophen (Tylenol) can certainly ease some of your gum pain.
- OTC Oral Gels: You can apply medications like Orajel and Anbesol to your gums to help relieve pain as well. Be sure to follow the instructions on the packaging.
Remember, though, that while these remedies may reduce your gum pain and swelling, they might not treat the underlying condition. You may have to visit a dentist for that.
When to See a Dentist
You’ve tried the home remedies. You’ve been diligently sticking to your oral hygiene routine. But your gums still hurt, so it might be time to see the dentist. While there’s a good chance that your gum pain is pretty benign, it could also be a sign of something more serious — a condition that only a dentist can treat.
If your gum pain, swelling, or bleeding persists for more than a week, the pain is severe, your teeth feel loose, you’re noticing gum recession, or your dentures or clear aligners don’t fit anymore, schedule a dentist’s appointment. They can pinpoint the cause of your sore gums and provide the right treatment.
Which route your dentist takes depends entirely on your condition. If you have milder gingivitis, they might clean your teeth and encourage you in your homecare routine. But more serious issues, like periodontal disease, might require scaling and root planing — deep cleaning below the gum line — laser therapy, or even surgery.
How to Prevent Gum Pain
Your most effective weapon in the fight against gum pain and inflammation is a solid oral hygiene routine. According to the ADA, you should brush your teeth twice per day with a soft-bristled brush, for two minutes each time. You’ll also want to floss at least once per day, and you can rinse with mouthwash if you’d like, although it’s less important than brushing and flossing.
On top of that, don’t buy a medium- or hard-bristled toothbrush unless your dentist recommends it, eat a well-balanced diet, avoid tobacco products, and schedule professional dental cleanings twice a year. Also, remember to replace your toothbrush or electric toothbrush head once every 3–4 months, or as soon as the bristles start fraying. It might seem like a lot, but your oral and overall health is worth it.
Gum pain can be alarming, but it’s not always indicative of a serious issue, and you can often treat it right at home.
That said, maintaining good oral hygiene and good overall health is essential to prevent it — along with a lot of other oral health concerns. And if you’re worried about your gums, visit your dentist. They’ll be able to diagnose the issue and treat it right away.
Frequently Asked Questions
Can brushing hurt my gums?
If you brush gently and with the correct technique, then it shouldn’t hurt your gums. But if you brush too aggressively or use a hard-bristled brush (unless your dentist recommended it), it can irritate your gums.
Can electric toothbrushes damage teeth and gums?
If you use your electric toothbrush properly, it shouldn’t damage your teeth or gums. But if you use hard bristles when you aren’t supposed to or brush with too much pressure, it can cause sensitivity, irritation, and even gum recession.
Is gum pain serious?
It depends on the cause, but typically not. Gum pain is often the result of overbrushing or using the wrong bristle stiffness. But it can also be a sign of gingivitis, tooth decay, or other conditions. If the pain is severe, won’t go away, or affects your daily life, call your dentist.
What are the causes of gum pain?
Some are as simple as brushing too hard or using a hard-bristled toothbrush when your dentist recommended soft. However, it can also be a sign of oral health concerns like gingivitis, cavities, tooth decay, periodontitis, and more.
What’s the best way to brush?
Hold your toothbrush at a 45-degree angle to the gums and move it back and forth over the front, back, and chewing surfaces of your teeth, spending 30 seconds on each quadrant of your mouth for a total of two minutes. If you’re using an electric toothbrush, it will do the brushing motion for you, so simply move it over each surface, spending 30 seconds in each quadrant.
Can you brush your teeth too hard?
Yes! If you use too much pressure when you brush or use a hard-bristled brush when your dentist hasn’t advised it, you can wear down your enamel, potentially causing sensitivity and decay down the road. Certain electric toothbrushes have pressure sensors to prevent aggressive brushing, but if you don’t have that feature, just slow down and brush gently.
Can you brush your teeth too much?
It depends on who you ask. While some dentists say you can brush as often as you’d like, as long as you’re not brushing too hard, others say you shouldn’t go over three times per day, since it might wear down your enamel.
How should I choose a toothbrush?
Your budget is an important factor, since electric toothbrushes can range from $10 to around $300, and manual ones are much less expensive. But you should also consider the size of the head and bristle firmness as well, since comfort is key and using the wrong bristle type can harm your enamel.
If you want an electric toothbrush, think about which brushing motion—rotation or up-and-down—is more comfortable for you, as well as the features you want. Some have multiple brushing modes and some have a pressure sensor that warns you if you’re brushing too hard. If you’re struggling to decide, you can always ask your dentist or orthodontist for their recommendation.
When should I see a dentist for gum pain?
If your gum pain is severe or lasts for more than a few days, or if your gums start bleeding, pay your dentist a visit.
How do I get rid of pain in my gums?
Saltwater rinses, warm and cold compresses, clove or turmeric pastes, or tea bags can all help alleviate gum pain and swelling. You can also purchase over-the-counter pain relievers or oral gels from a local drugstore. If the pain is severe or lasts more than a week, however, it might require care from a dentist.
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